Tips for finding shed antlers. by Bob Humphrey
For true deer hunters the season never ends. We may not be able to shoot them until next fall, but we can still hunt them, or at least the sign they leave behind. One of the most exciting and informative signs is shed antlers. And just like conventional hunting, there are some tricks and tips to make you more successful.
When the rut is over, bucks focus their attention on feeding, restoring the depleted fat stores they’ll need to survive winter. Find the food and you’ll find the deer, and maybe their antlers. Where to look depends on where you live but it could be oak groves, late season food plots or un- or under-harvested crop fields. A fresh cutting may have remnant tops of downed hardwood trees. An two or three year old cut will have stump sprouts, a favorite winter food of deer. Take note because these are the same areas they use in late fall.
Besides eating, deer survive winter by minimizing energy expenditure. They do this by seeking shelter. In the north woods, they concentrate in wintering areas or yards, where dense softwood cover breaks the wind and reduces snow depth. In steeper terrain or more open ground they’ll spend more time on south and east facing slopes, protected from prevailing winds and exposed to more sunlight. Often these are the same areas they’ll use year round as bedding cover.
Often antlers simply fall off but sometimes they need a little help. This could come in the form of any obstacle that requires a deer to jump over or across, like a fence, a stone wall or a narrow stream. Dense vegetation, like softwood boughs or briar thickets might also hasten and localize the shedding process. All these places might also be regular travel routes during the real hunting season.
Deer concentrate in sheltered areas during winter, making those a great place to hunt for sheds.
Also like deer hunting, shed hunting proficiency improves with experience. Just like hunters looking not for a deer but for parts of a deer, shed hunters should look for the shape and color of an antler. It may be the tip of a tine poking through the snow or out of the mud, or the glow of white and the curve of the beam. Over time you begin to develop a search image and the general shape and color of antlers becomes more eye-catching, even from a distance.
You can also be more successful by recruiting help, and there’s no better helper than man’s best friend. Despite being dead bone, antlers still have odor, and dogs make great antler hunting companions. They can cover a lot more ground and are more willing to go into those dense tangles you avoid. Some have a natural instinct and a knack for it, which can be enhanced with training.
At the very least, it’s an excuse to get out in the woods and get some fresh air and exercise. In addition to sheds, you might pick up some valuable information you can put to use next fall. Seeing which bucks made it through the season also gives you a head start on next fall’s hit list. Go hunting for sheds, now!